TWIN FALLS — Enrollment has more than quadrupled over the last year in the College of Southern Idaho’s nontraditional teacher preparation program.
Eighteen students made up last year’s inaugural class. This year, the number jumped to 80.
And the growth doesn’t appear to be slowing, said CSI Alternative Authorization Director Christina Linder.
“We had to open up early enrollment for the (upcoming) spring semester due to increased interest,” Linder said.
Linder attributes increased enrollment to demand for a more robust yet still nontraditional route to teacher certification in Idaho.
“Our thought was that there has to be a better way to do this,” Linder said.
Teacher shortages have forced many Idaho districts and charters to improvise by hiring more professionals with no teaching experience or college graduates who didn’t major in education. State approved, nontraditional prep programs target these prospective teachers with streamlined curricula and online learning. The programs tout major cost and time savings compared to traditional routes through four-year colleges and universities.
Yet questions have swirled around the quality of Idaho’s nontraditional programs. A recent review found that the state’s largest alternative authorizer, the American Board for Certification of Teacher Excellence, may not be adequately preparing some participants. Around 800 Idaho teaching candidates have completed ABCTE’s program since 2014. Meanwhile, nontraditional hires have surged amid the state’s lingering teacher shortages.
Linder said CSI’s program maintains the added speed, affordability and flexibility expected in a nontraditional route — with an added emphasis on maintaining quality.
She pointed to the program’s mentor component. While alternative programs like ABCTE require participants to find a volunteer mentor to help guide them through their program, CSI goes a step further.
“All of our mentors are experienced, retired teachers that we seek out and approve,” Linder said.
CSI also pays its mentors. Half of a student’s $1,000 per-semester tuition goes directly to their mentor, Linder said.
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Buhl School District Superintendent Ron Anthony has three employees enrolled in CSI’s program. He said vetting and paying experienced mentors gives CSI an edge over other nontraditional routes.
“They’re going to see a teacher who’s had a lot of practice,” Anthony said. “That’s very important.”
Linder also touted the program’s emphasis on shaping program requirements around statewide teaching and accountability measures. For example, each of the program’s five learning “modules” are built around the state’s Core Teaching Standards. And unlike ABCTE, CSI students must complete the program by passing the Praxis, a national certification exam administered by the Educational Testing Service that’s typically required in traditional programs.
Linder said she’s also worked closely with the creator — and namesake — of Idaho’s most widely used teacher evaluations model, Charlotte Danielson, to help participants better understand what’s expected once they’re on their own in a classroom.
Emphasizing statewide criteria is key to fulfilling the school’s vision to help participants feel like they’re in an traditional program, Linder said.
More about the program
How long does it take? Completion of the program’s five learning modules typically takes four semesters, plus one summer session. Modules can be completed in any order.
What are the program’s requirements? Each semester, students complete a range of requirements within a given module. Participants without a bachelor’s degree must have regular access to a classroom setting. Some module requirements can be waived depending on professional experience in a given subject area, Linder said.
How much does it cost?
Each module is $1,000.
Do I have to live near CSI to attend?
No. The program can be completed online by students from across Idaho.
Do I have to have a bachelor’s degree to attend? No. While the program focuses on helping participants who already have a bachelor’s degrees, there is an option for paraprofessionals and education volunteers to become fully certified. CSI has partnered with Boise State University to connect these candidates to an online bachelor’s degree program. CSI’s program also has an option for certified teachers seeking an endorsement in another content area.